Agent York is touching his ear. That's Deadly Premonition's way of telling you he's talking to Zach, his imaginary companion. Agent York only has about three animations, so he talks to Zach a lot.
He leaves conversations with people to give dramatic asides to Zach, and when you're driving around the long, dark roads of Greenvale by night, he fills the gaps with one-sided conversations on subjects such as the sadomasochistic relationship of Tom & Jerry, and the movies of Steven Spielberg.
Agent York, you see, isn't normal. Coffee speaks to him. In one early scene, after breakfast with a deaf woman from opposite ends of an extremely long table, it tells him he's going to go to a theme park. "But there isn't a theme park in Greenvale," Agent York protests, staring suspiciously at the prophetic brown liquid. "Don't look at me," his beverage would be perfectly within its rights to reply. "I'm just a fortune-telling cup of coffee, not a tourist information centre."
York is in his element, because Greenvale isn't normal either. It's a town that doesn't buy raincoats, because when it's raining, it's rumoured that a murderer roams the streets. There are also car-sized dogs that drop from the sky, and groaning monsters who try to slide their arms into your mouth. But no-one mentions those, so much.
You might, at this stage, be wondering what Deadly Premonition is like as a game. You and me both. It's an action-adventure that lifts equally from two unlikely sources. One one hand, it's Silent Hill - mysterious dual world, physically contorted enemies, and stifling tank controls. On the other hand, it's the '80s soap opera Crossroads - with bad camera angles, continuity errors, and the ability to be enjoyed on an ironic level you're never quite sure is intended.
It's a mad old world
From a Twin Peaks opening, to a Silent Hill prologue, Deadly Premonition then defies expectations even further a few hours in by becoming an open-world exploration game, with chapters triggered at specific times, and long hours to fill between then. You can sleep if you like, but you can also collect character cards and play a solo racing mini-game. I say racing - cars are limited to around 50mph, and steer like stunned pigs in calipers.
Inspirations are many, and without reason. There are military medals lying around that you pick up for cash. The FBI pay you extra for looking trendy, and peeking through windows. I'm doing my best not to make it sound good, but you can't help but offer props to the developers. This looks, and feels, like a game that hasn't been made for a decade.
It's tempting to add 'with good reason'. The music stands out, for similarly wrong reasons. Four loops, including a playful whistle that you'll punch yourself in the mouth for mimicking. These insufferable loops swap freely midway several times over a scene, snapping the mood in half. And you'll need to sort out your own sound balance, because you can barely hear the dialogue under the whistling, at default settings.
In its defence - and its saving grace - Deadly Premonition knows how bad it is. Or if it doesn't, it's the impression so powerfully given that it barely matters. One minute, you're fending off an axe-dragging maniac who might as well be a hatless Pyramid Head. The next, York is pulling a bizarre facial expression that looks like the graphics guy forgot he wasn't animating the Joker for a second.
It is impossible to score. It's every score, from zero to ten. If you thrive on awkward moments, and so-bad-it's-good movies, then Deadly Premonition is so staggeringly bad, that it can only be excellent.